Mike Busdicker: The Big Difference Between a ‘Vendor’ and a ‘Supplier’

There are some who may think the only difference between a “vendor” or a “supplier” is the use of the word. Others may think, “how does this apply to an in-house healthcare technology management (HTM) program?” A couple of years ago, a forward-thinking supply chain leader taught me that there’s a significant difference between the two.

First, basic definitions describe a vendor as “a person or company selling something,” such as a street food cart. While a supplier is described as “a person or company providing something that is needed,” such as a product or service. Based on the definitions alone, we could end the discussion right there.

But, I want to dig just a little deeper into the subject. Let’s look at utilization and relationships with each one.

Every organization in the healthcare industry needs to conduct business with vendors. The continuous need for supplies, equipment, and service will drive organizations to companies with a niche. This is also true for areas related to the operation of an HTM department and the care of medical equipment. The relationships with vendors exist on a transactional-only basis—when someone needs a product or a service, there will be several companies or people willing to complete the transaction. Again, this is simply a transactional relationship between the two parties.

On the other hand, some business relationships go beyond the transactional exchange. In my experience, a supplier will look to understand the need, fulfill the immediate requirement, and attempt to assist in meeting future goals and objectives. They want to understand the issues facing the department or healthcare institution, and they actively seek ways to contribute to success. This type of relationship needs to be a two-way street to create a win-win for both parties. Working together will build trust and create a long-lasting relationship between suppliers and those involved in the process.

Typically, in the HTM industry we link—and limit—these relationships to vendors and suppliers providing parts or service to healthcare institutions. I believe it goes much further than that and includes manufacturers, parts providers, service providers, independent service organizations (ISOs), and in-house HTM departments. In fact, it includes anyone and everyone involved in the maintenance of medical equipment. For example, in-house programs are providing a service/product to departments and to the healthcare organization. Are these programs looking beyond the simple preventive maintenance process, regulatory requirements, and being a “fix-it” shop? Do they build a supplier relationship with those being served and contribute to the success in providing outstanding patient care and treatment? Do they link their services to the overall mission, vision, values, and objectives of the organization? The same questions can be asked of the suppliers being utilized by the HTM department, the manufacturers, and the ISOs.

The bottom line is there will always be transactional-only vendor relationships. The successful HTM departments, manufacturers, ISOs, and parts and service providers will get beyond these types of relationships and focus on being a supplier. The only way we will positively contribute to healthcare reform is by limiting the number of vendor relationships and replacing them with supplier relationships. In the end, it will be our consumers and patients that will be the beneficiaries of our success.

Mike Busdicker, MBA, CHTM, is system director of clinical engineering at Intermountain Healthcare, which is based in Salt Lake City, UT.

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